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Sexual Harassment in The Workplace: Can I Get Compensation?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is on the rise in Australia.

A recent survey of female Lawyers in the NSW Legal Profession found that more than 70% had reported being sexually harassed with many saying that had been subjected to unwelcome touching, objectification and repeated advances in the workplace or at social events. The survey was conducted by the Woman’s Lawyers Association of NSW and forms part of its submission to the Australian Human Rights Commissions Enquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Section 28A (1) of the Sex Discrimination Act (CTH) 1984 (SDA) defines sexual harassment behaviour as:

(a) a person who makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or

(b) engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed;

In circumstances in which a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual Harassment in the workplace

Section 28B of the SDA makes it unlawful for an employer to sexually harass an employee or an employee to sexually harass a fellow employee.

Sexual harassment in employment by either fellow employees or the boss is considered to be unlawful discrimination.

Section 106 of the SDA imposes vicarious liability on employers for sexual harassment by one employee towards another. The employer is liable if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent the employee form doing the sexual harassment.

This means the employer could be held responsible for any remedy the employee may seek as a result of the sexual harassment by another employee.

Similar provisions are found in the Anti-Discrimination Act (NSW) 1977.

If you have sustained an injury either physical or psychological you can make a claim for workers compensation benefits under the NSW Workers Compensation Act 1987.

How to report sexual harassment in the workplace

A sexual harassment claim needs to be reported to the human resources department or a manager at work. You should keep any emails or any other documents relating to the assault/harassment and record as much information as you can about any verbal comments or other actions being taken to sexually harass you.

Your employer should take your complaints seriously and remove you from the presence of the person who is sexually harassing you and investigate the allegations and do their best to stop the sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, once a complaint has been made, employers often do nothing or often do very little to prevent further sexual harassment from occurring.

If the person who is sexually harassing you is the boss and there is no one to report the conduct to, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. You need to make the complaint within 12 months.

How to claim compensation for sexual harassment in the workplace

To claim monetary compensation for sexual harassment, a complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace must be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) within 12 months of the acts occurring.

The AHRC has the power to investigate and conciliate any such complaints and decide as to whether the sexual harassment was unlawful and also arrange for the parties to attend mediation to see if agreement can be reached.

If no agreement can be reached, then proceedings may be commenced seeking monetary compensation in the Federal Court. This must occur within 60 days of the decision by the AHRC.

Section 46PO of the AHRC Act allows the Federal Court to award damages for unlawful discrimination which includes sexual harassment. The section reads as follows: –

“if the court concerned is satisfied that there has been unlawful discrimination by any respondent, the court may make such orders (including a declaration of rights) as it thinks fit, including any of the following orders or any order to a similar effect…..

(d)an order requiring a respondent to pay to applicant damage by way of compensation for any loss or damage suffered because of the conduct of the respondent.”

Recent cases that involve sexual harassment within the workplace

There have been two recent cases decided by the Federal Court, one (Richardson v Oracle Corporation Pty Limited) in which the court awarded the person who was sexually harassed $100,000.00 for the value of loss of enjoyment of life and the mental illness or distress caused by the conduct as well as $30,000.00 in loss of income.

Recently in the case of Katherine Hill v Owen Hughes t/as Beasley & Hughes Lawyers, the court awarded $170,000.00 to a female lawyer who had been sexually harassed by her boss. $120,000.00 was awarded for damages suffered because of the harassing conduct and $50,000.00 was awarded for aggravated damages. Aggravated damages are essentially awarded for the failure of the employer to stop or prevent the sexual harassment from occurring.

Summary

These two recent cases make it clear that the Federal Court of Australia will award substantial damages of compensation to anyone sexually harassed in the course of their employment should the employer fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment from continuing once it is reported. If it is the owner of the business that is sexually harassing, you then the employer has clearly failed to take any steps to stop the harassment and will be found liable to pay compensation. It is the employer who pays the compensation.

If you would like to discuss any potential claim you may have please contact our office at (02) 8329 9500 or complete a free case assessment here.

Garling & Co Lawyers

Matthew Garling

Matthew Garling is an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law approved by New South Wales Law Society. He is admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of NSW and the High Court of Australia. Matthew is also a member of...
Kimberly B.
23:14 14 Feb 24
Mathew is very knowledgable and has been of great assistance to me. All the staff are friendly and helpful. I'm so happy I found this firm.Thank you Mathew and team for your great work in my case.... I am 100% happy with what you achieved for me.read more
Julie M.
10:16 16 Jan 24
My last stage of Workers compensation claim was managed by Emma Perkins, Natasha Stojanovic, Rebecca Dunshea and Kelli Robinson at Garling and Co. Lawyers who went the extra mile with their service... from the beginning to the end of 3 years of my case. I have become very anxious with almost everything after a workplace injury and a lot of times I probably ask more questions than I need to, but Emma Perkins always finds clear answers to my questions in a short time and explains to me patiently even using her mealtime or between her meeting and make me feel that I have been very well take care and supported. I am so grateful and extremely satisfied. The excellent service, attitude, and culture of Metthew Garling and his team are second to none with a very high success rate. If you going to battle with your workplace injury for a short or long period, you are better off with Garling and Co. lawyers who are able back you up every step of the way. I strongly recommend it to anybody who needs their service like me. Julieread more
patrick P.
01:46 19 Dec 23
I like to say that I had a very wonderful experience,And the support, and also understanding with all my requests,I could not ask for a better team!Thank you Emma and also her assistant Rebecca... thank youread more
Kazi H.
13:38 13 Dec 23
Work cover fund is GOVT’S money but insurer think that it is from their 14th generation. So only they can have it. Not only that, people from the work, IME doctor from insurer, back to work... coordinator from work, Rehab provider from any side push the worker as hard as possible that the worker (doesn’t matter how the workers mental or psychical condition) either go back to his pre injury duty or leave the job.More over on that very bumpy any difficult journey some of them only treat the worker as a MONEY MAKING MECHINE .in some point worker feels like, no rooms to breath. On that moment need someone to support legally, someone to care, someone to relive.On my case I believe that, somehow, I manage to make my God happy. That’s why God sends me to Matthew Gerling and his team Allison, Rebecca and Nathan, and all of GARLING & co Lawyers.I am not good enough in English, can’t express my gratitude.Matthew, Allison, Rebecca and Nathan, please accept my appreciation and pass it to others.read more
Carol L.
01:32 29 Nov 23
Professional, understanding and friendly
Sean G.
23:21 14 Nov 23
Matthew Garling and everyone I spoke to at Garling and Co were kind, caring and compassionate. They were sensitive to my psychological condition and were patient in explaining everything to me, so... that I clearly understood the legal process. I am exceptionally grateful for the settlement outcome that Garling and Co obtained for me. Many thanks.read more
waqas A.
08:33 13 Nov 23
Great Experience with Garling & Co. Matthew explained everything in detail during the first appointment. Allison, Nathan, Rebecca and the staff have been extremely helpful. Thank You to the team and... lawyers at Garling & Co. for making the long process easy for me and getting an excellent outcome for my compensation claim.I would highly recommend Garling & Co. Lawyersread more
Saskia L.
21:42 08 Nov 23
The world of workers compensation is long, hard and confusing, but Emma and Rebecca at Garling & Co always treated my case with kindness, respect and understanding. No question was ever silly and... they always had time to make sure I knew what would happen next and how we could best prepare. I am so thankful for their expertise and could not have chosen anyone better to represent me.read more
Antonio P.
08:46 06 Nov 23
Thank you Matthew and his team for taking care of my case couldn’t ask for a better results and couldn’t have better team to do that thank you
Julie M.
00:40 06 Nov 23
Garlic & Co Lawyers have been wonderful, supporting me through some difficult times. With their assistance, positive outcomes were achieved. Many thanks to the Team.Julie
READ ALL TESTIMONIALS

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Kimberly B.
23:14 14 Feb 24
Mathew is very knowledgable and has been of great assistance to me. All the staff are friendly and helpful. I'm so happy I found this firm.Thank you Mathew and team for your great work in my case.... I am 100% happy with what you achieved for me.read more
Julie M.
10:16 16 Jan 24
My last stage of Workers compensation claim was managed by Emma Perkins, Natasha Stojanovic, Rebecca Dunshea and Kelli Robinson at Garling and Co. Lawyers who went the extra mile with their service... from the beginning to the end of 3 years of my case. I have become very anxious with almost everything after a workplace injury and a lot of times I probably ask more questions than I need to, but Emma Perkins always finds clear answers to my questions in a short time and explains to me patiently even using her mealtime or between her meeting and make me feel that I have been very well take care and supported. I am so grateful and extremely satisfied. The excellent service, attitude, and culture of Metthew Garling and his team are second to none with a very high success rate. If you going to battle with your workplace injury for a short or long period, you are better off with Garling and Co. lawyers who are able back you up every step of the way. I strongly recommend it to anybody who needs their service like me. Julieread more
patrick P.
01:46 19 Dec 23
I like to say that I had a very wonderful experience,And the support, and also understanding with all my requests,I could not ask for a better team!Thank you Emma and also her assistant Rebecca... thank youread more
Kazi H.
13:38 13 Dec 23
Work cover fund is GOVT’S money but insurer think that it is from their 14th generation. So only they can have it. Not only that, people from the work, IME doctor from insurer, back to work... coordinator from work, Rehab provider from any side push the worker as hard as possible that the worker (doesn’t matter how the workers mental or psychical condition) either go back to his pre injury duty or leave the job.More over on that very bumpy any difficult journey some of them only treat the worker as a MONEY MAKING MECHINE .in some point worker feels like, no rooms to breath. On that moment need someone to support legally, someone to care, someone to relive.On my case I believe that, somehow, I manage to make my God happy. That’s why God sends me to Matthew Gerling and his team Allison, Rebecca and Nathan, and all of GARLING & co Lawyers.I am not good enough in English, can’t express my gratitude.Matthew, Allison, Rebecca and Nathan, please accept my appreciation and pass it to others.read more
Carol L.
01:32 29 Nov 23
Professional, understanding and friendly
Sean G.
23:21 14 Nov 23
Matthew Garling and everyone I spoke to at Garling and Co were kind, caring and compassionate. They were sensitive to my psychological condition and were patient in explaining everything to me, so... that I clearly understood the legal process. I am exceptionally grateful for the settlement outcome that Garling and Co obtained for me. Many thanks.read more
waqas A.
08:33 13 Nov 23
Great Experience with Garling & Co. Matthew explained everything in detail during the first appointment. Allison, Nathan, Rebecca and the staff have been extremely helpful. Thank You to the team and... lawyers at Garling & Co. for making the long process easy for me and getting an excellent outcome for my compensation claim.I would highly recommend Garling & Co. Lawyersread more
Saskia L.
21:42 08 Nov 23
The world of workers compensation is long, hard and confusing, but Emma and Rebecca at Garling & Co always treated my case with kindness, respect and understanding. No question was ever silly and... they always had time to make sure I knew what would happen next and how we could best prepare. I am so thankful for their expertise and could not have chosen anyone better to represent me.read more
Antonio P.
08:46 06 Nov 23
Thank you Matthew and his team for taking care of my case couldn’t ask for a better results and couldn’t have better team to do that thank you
Julie M.
00:40 06 Nov 23
Garlic & Co Lawyers have been wonderful, supporting me through some difficult times. With their assistance, positive outcomes were achieved. Many thanks to the Team.Julie
University of Technology, Sydney
Member of Law Society of New South Wales
Law Society of NSW Specialist Accreditation
University of Sydney
Legal Profession Admission Board of New South Wales
The law society of nsw professional standards scheme logo.
University of Technology, Sydney
Member of Law Society of New South Wales
Law Society of NSW Specialist Accreditation
University of Sydney
Legal Profession Admission Board of New South Wales
The law society of nsw professional standards scheme logo.
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